Eagles coach steps down
July 23, 2008
FORT COLLINS ” For once, Chris Stewart is looking forward to a sense of normalcy. Kevin McClelland is more than happy to help provide that.
“It’s definitely a new challenge,” said Stewart, who announced Tuesday at the Fort Collins Marriott that he has relinquished his coaching duties of the Colorado Eagles.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to the most is, in January, sitting down to have dinner with my wife instead of being out on the road some place. Then I can catch the game on the radio. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Stewart, who has coached the Eagles since their inception in the Central Hockey League, will step away from the bench but retain his duties as general manager and team president. The move opened the door for McClelland, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s and five-year head coaching veteran.
“It’s an exciting day for me because of the opportunity, and it’s a sad day to see a good friend and great coach step off the bench,” said McClelland, who coached the Memphis/Mississippi RiverKings for the past three seasons. “Chris Stewart’s success everywhere he’s been has been amazing. It’s great to be on his side instead of against him now.”
Stewart had been contemplating the move for the past few years, he said, but never felt the timing was right. When he heard McClelland had resigned after three seasons on the RiverKings’ bench, he felt the time had come.
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“In this particular instance, I just felt the timing was right because I knew Mac so well,” Stewart said. “I just knew he was going to come in and he was going to make everything that much better here.
“If Kevin isn’t available. I don’t make the move.”
Members of the team found out about the move early this month from Stewart, who has one of the top winning percentages (.678) during his nine seasons coaching in the CHL. The Eagles have the league’s best cumulative record (213-77-26) in his five seasons, including five Northwest Division titles and victories in the President’s Cup Finals in 2005 and 2007. He also guided the Huntsville Channel Cats to the CHL title in 1999, and his 375 wins in the league rank second in its history.
McClelland spent much of a 12-year NHL career with Edmonton and was known for his rugged and aggressive play, racking up the second-most penalty minutes in the team’s history. He finished with 1,672 penalty minutes in 588 career regular season games with 68 goals and 112 assists with Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Detroit, Toronto and Winnipeg. One of his main jobs with the Oilers was protecting Wayne Gretzky, and it helped them win consecutive Stanley Cups from 1984-85 and 1987-88.
He coached the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League from 1998 to 2000 before spending five seasons as an assistant with the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Maple Leafs. McClelland became the head coach of the RiverKings before the 2005-06 season, guiding them to a 100-77-15 record. They reached the Northern Conference finals in his second season, losing to Colorado in six games, and he was named the league’s coach of the year that season.
Not long after stepping down as the RiverKings’ coach, he was awarded the league’s Ralph Backstrom Soul of Service Award for “demonstrating the qualities of excellence and dedication to providing outstanding customer service.”
“To be honest, I was a little taken back when I heard this,” Eagles CEO Martin Lind said. “I said, ‘Stewie, look where the bar is set. Who would even consider taking that challenge?’
“Ralph (Backstrom, the team’s founder) sat down privately with me one night and said, ‘Martin, there’s only two people in the nation who we would consider handing this thoroughbred to, and coach Mac is one of those.'”
The move allows Stewart to focus more on the day-to-day operations of running the team while remaining involved in recruiting players. Meanwhile, McClelland plans for the Eagles to play an aggressive, puck-control style of hockey which has helped make the Eagles successful so far.
“We’re going to dictate the tempo, not only on our home ice, but on our opponent’s home ice as well,” McClelland said.